Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for Queensland miners backed by industry

Queensland’s resources industry says it would support mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the state’s mine workers to protect regional communities where vaccination rates are alarmingly low.

While the state has so far dodged any major COVID-19 outbreaks, there are growing concerns over the risk of unvaccinated fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers spreading the virus to regional mining communities once the state fully reopens its border.

BHP, which operates nine mines in Queensland’s Bowen Basin and the Hay Point coal terminal near Mackay, has already declared a vaccine mandate for its workers nationwide.

Glencore Australia and the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said they would support any advice from regulatory bodies to mandate vaccines for workers.

“Regional areas are dangerously at risk now because borders are going to open and we need to make sure that every mine worker that’s travelling into communities is vaccinated,” QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said.

Older man wearing collared shirt and tie sits behind a mahogany desk in an office
Chief executive of the Queensland Resource Council Ian Macfarlane says the risk of unvaccinated workers spreading COVID-19 is significant.(Supplied: QRC)

“The risk to employers of unvaccinated workers carrying COVID-19 into a mine site is just enormous.

“An outbreak of COVID-19 on a mine site or in a mine camp will shut the mine down.

“That will cost workers their wages and bring significant cost to the community. We want to prevent that.”

Smoke billows over the city of Mount Isa.
Glencore Australia runs 25 mining operations in North West Queensland, including the Mount Isa Mines.(ABC RN: David Lewis)

Glencore Australia, which operates the Mount Isa Mines and over 20 other sites in the state’s north-west, said the company would implement a mandate if it was recommended by regulators.

“Glencore strongly supports the Australian Government’s national vaccine roll-out program for COVID-19 and we’re proactively encouraging our entire workforce to get vaccinated.”

Not everyone is a fan of a compulsory jab

National secretary at the Australian Workers Union (AWU) Daniel Walton said employees should have a choice.

“We have strongly advocated to government and industry that COVID-19 vaccinations should be voluntary for mineworkers, with the high rates we need to protect safety best achieved through education, easy access, and incentives,” he said.

FIFO a concern

A worker queues to be screened for COVID-19 outside Perth Airport's Terminal 2.
BHP miners must be vaccinated by January 2022 after the company introduced a nationwide mandate in October.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Western Australia last week announced it would mandate vaccinations for employees in the resources sector.

There have been several FIFO related COVID-19 scares across Australia since the start of the pandemic.

The most recent case was reported at Adelaide Airport on Sunday, when a “very infectious” FIFO miner from Melbourne transited through the terminal.

In July, a positive case at the Northern Territory’s Granites gold mine sent 900 FIFO workers, along with the whole of Darwin and Alice Springs, into lockdown.

An aerial shot of the gold mine, surrounded by red dirt
A positive case at the Northern Territory’s Granites gold mine sent 900 FIFO workers, Darwin and Alice Springs, into lockdown.(ABC News: Caddie Brain)

“Mandating obviously has a connotation of enforcement against someone’s will, but the reality is that the Queensland resources sector is a critical industry,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Low vaccination rates will see the pandemic sweep through regional areas, so we’re encouraging all mine workers to get vaccinated for their own protection and for the protection of the communities they work in.”

Queensland resources minister Scott Stewart said he will continue to act on advice from health authorities.

“We have listened to the health advice and will continue to do so. This has allowed the industry to continue operating safely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

‘Vulnerable settings’

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young provides a COVID-19
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young has so far ruled out mandating vaccines beyond ‘vulnerable settings’.(ABC News)

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young has so far ruled out mandating vaccines beyond “vulnerable settings”, including hospitals, aged care and prisons, and potentially disability services in the future.

The mandate for Queensland Health staff and the Queensland Police Service is subject to a legal challenge.

Outside those priority groups, Dr Young said people could make choices about the vaccine, but she hoped Queensland’s overall vaccination rate would reach 95 per cent.

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